Hunter and Hunted – An interview with David Bateson

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As a Hitman lore enthusiast, I often find myself analysing the smallest details of the games, their stories and characters. The series would not be what it is today without its (forgive me for using this word) iconic main well-suited character and his bald head decorated with a (let’s hit all of the cliche words!) signature barcode. But it’s not the tie or the black leather gloves what made Mr. 47 so endearing for yours truly. You know my thoughts on the character as well as the recent developments of his personality. You know I’ve been digging and digging through all of the games to bring you the best analysis of our beloved protagonist and you might have thought my extensive piece is where I draw the line. Today, I’d like to prove you wrong.

There were itches unscratched in this lore-loving heart and this is why today I present to you the real insight to 47’s mind. An interview with David Bateson.

This is what happens when the lore expert talks to Mr. 47 himself…

WHITE:

First of all, thank you so much for agreeing to do this. It’s great to see you are so open to interact with the fanbase. I was always enthralled by 47’s personality and how it was presented throughout the games. So naturally, I would love to ask a few questions for the man voicing said character and undoubtedly is the main reason as for my passion for Mr. 47. I am so glad we were able to make this happen.

Could you tell us what were the first pointers you were given when voicing the role of agent 47? Was he always meant to be a tough guy with a troubled backstory or did his past was unknown to you during the recordings for Codename 47? How much of the story was even known to you?

DAVID:

As I recall, I wasn’t given much information for that first recording. But reading the script, which I seem to recall were just inner monologues, I got an idea of how it should read. However, the atmosphere of the images I was looking at were haunting and stark, so the scene was set – it was moody and ominous from the start.

WHITE:

Can you tell us more about these images you were 487925-screenshot2shown? Were these tech demos or just concept art? Do you remember what were they of?

DAVID:

They were of Hong Kong – both concept art and sequences from the game, as I remember. Very black and white, shadowy. Quite Japanese in look. but on the whole it reminded me of Blade Runner.

WHITE:

Ah, so you already had an insight to what the aesthetic was going to look like and played off that! That’s really interesting. So what was your opinion on the character when the role was presented to you? What influenced your choice in taking the offer?

DAVID:

I was deeply impressed and “moved” by those first images and graphics. A character that is created – with a specific purpose only – intrigued me. There is no history, nothing to hang an “attitude” on. So it felt like it gave me a broad blank canvas to draw on and shape, according to what was subsequently told to me and according to how my personality interpreted that. Looking back, though I am convinced that the original guys who developed Hitman and created Agent 47, knew or at the very least, had a good idea of how he should be; but because nothing existed before that time, it really felt like there was room to influence his development. As an actor, I am drawn to characters out of curiosity. I want to find out how they think and feel and then allow myself to think and feel like them. No filter, or at least, as little as possible. It’s a real trust exercise, in a way.

What will always intrigue me about Agent 47, is that I will never fully know him.

h_bscenes

WHITE:

So you do, in fact, play a huge role into the creation of Mr. 47! I guess I have to thank you for creating my absolute favorite fictional character of all times. I don’t think anyone will ever fully know him… and believe me, I have tried!

DAVID:

Ha ha!

WHITE:

How did your perception of 47 changed once it came to voicing Silent Assassin? The main storyline of the game heavily revolves around 47’s moral journey. A quite interesting turn of events when it comes to hitmen stories.

DAVID:

sa_47_1Now we’re getting to the point… You know, as I see it, every single thing we do in life, is a choice. We may be dealt some crap cards sometimes, but we choose how to play them. That choice is based on one’s own definition of morals. Does this feel right? Should I do this? Do my actions and behaviour benefit or harm others?

Well, it’s clear Agent 47 has a very purely defined moral code. He is programmed to fulfil a contract. That contract involves the taking of life. There is no doubt or repentance of what he does. It is as if he is either autistic or psychotic in that he is completely detached from his feelings. And yet…. he is not. It would be utterly boring and uninteresting to play him 100% like that. There is something in the cocktail of his genetic make-up that lingers. He is a human, afterall.

We’ve seen it before, in films from Total Recall to Blade Runner to Oblivion, where a character is haunted by something in their past DNA that makes them search for who they really are. It’s actually the same in real life. I see in my own children, behaviour patterns and quirks, that are mine and that were definitely not taught or consciously passed on by me. Where does that come from? Agent 47 may never find the answers as to who he is and what makes him the way he is. But it’s the subconscious search that makes the journey interesting. There is nothing new here. It’s life. But part of the appeal of the character of Agent 47 is that just ever so slightly, we are haunted by him. At least… I am.

WHITE:

This is where the origin of my interest of Mr. 47 lies. There is so much you can wonder about and yet I feel this side of him has been lost throughout the years and especially in the newest installment. I personally thought they could do so much more with him in HITMAN but as I understand, they focused on establishing the World of Assassination this time.

How do you perceive 47’s interest in religion? Is it something you can identify with?

DAVID:

crossAbsolutely. I was really fascinated by the religious element that the developers and writers allowed themselves to express. Religion, any religion, is a set of profound beliefs felt and followed by billions of people in every corner of the world. Never under estimate the power of religious faith. Ever!

When we are younger, we tend to perceive life and sets of religious beliefs in pretty well defined terms. Good, bad, right wrong. With a few more years and experiences on our shoulders, I think it is fair to say that there is a good chance we may accept more nuances as to what is right or wrong. So when IO went down the religious road it made sense, as the fanbase was predominantly young and questioning. On the one hand, risky, as it might alienate this young audience. But on the other hand, appealing to the more clearly defined moral codes of youth.

I can identify with this. However, I will leave my personal faith out of this conversation.

WHITE:

It is really interesting how you mentioned young and questioning – as 47 can be seen as young and questioning as well. Yes, he can be described as adult by the time of Silent Assassin but he’s been truly free to explore and create his outlook on the world and his own life for a much shorter period. As for alienating younger audiences – I don’t think back then they were even attempting to reach that demographic. Part of why I find the older titles so endearing. They were mature for a reason and I love that maturity.

47’s character shines when dealing with side characters. There were many throughout the Hitman series but none as prominent as his handler. What do you think of their relationship? Do you think it is strictly business or have they grown to care about each other over the course of their work?

DAVID:

Well, what made Diana and Agent 47’s relationship so good from the get go – and this wasn’t in any way planned – was that Vivienne McKee happens to be my theatre company boss! Vivienne and I are close friends and when we started working on Hitman together we had already known each other 9-10 years. I think there was and is still, an unspoken chemistry between them. Of course, it can never be expressed and Agent 47 probably would not even know what it is that should be expressed!

However, I sense Diana’s instinct to want to look after her agent in the field both professionally, but also dare I say it, personally. This is not a bad thing to have in the mix. It just adds to the complexity of how we as players, become involved with these characters. I think there were some intriguing elements of this expressed in Absolution, when we experience Agent 47’s horror and dilemma of having to fulfil a contract on Diana – with all their history together over the years. I would like to think that that experience has made them even closer.

20170509190721_1WHITE:

Personally, I think it’s a deep shame that Vivienne McKee wasn’t a part of Absolution. This particular moment in A Personal Contract would be so much more meaningful if that was the case. I always saw it as this missed opportunity for creating a truly powerful moment in the series, especially for the already existing fanbase. In the end, they did not only change the voice actress – they also made that scene completely inconsequential storywise.

DAVID:

All I can say is: Vivienne was majorly bummed at being replaced!

WHITE:

Did you ever happen to record with Vivienne McKee when it came to the Hitman series?

DAVID:

You know, we never recorded together. Occasionally, our paths would cross in the studio, as one finished and the other would go in to record. But sadly, for my part at least, there has never been the opportunity of recording across from one another.

WHITE:

There are also other prominent side characters in the series. Padre Vittorio is obviously 47’s friend and his moral guidance but we also have agent Smith whom 47 seems to dislike. Were there any directions or reasons given to you for why that is? And if not – do you have any suspicions?

DAVID:

What still intrigues me to this day, is that the writers don’t always tell me everything. And I try not to ask, sometimes. I mean, I need to know what happens before a moment of monologue/dialogue but as a character, I actually don’t need to know what comes next. Bit like real life, really. I thoroughly enjoyed my relationship with the padre – man, does that ever sound wrong, in these day and ages…! Ha ha! You know what I mean. I like the idea of having a mentor or someone to be able to ask those big meaningful questions, and trust in the integrity of their answers.

Agent Smith, I do seem to remember them keeping me a little in the dark, about him. This feeling of ambivalence helped me deliver lines about him. Truth is, I don’t want to know everything. Wouldn’t that be dull.

WHITE:

Absolutely. I imagine that would also show in the delivery. Knowing what 47 should not know might void some of the emotional impact!

Have you noticed any form of change in 47’s character as he evolves overtime? Do you agree with the changes or do you think some games did not portray him as well as others? (In particular – the dreaded Absolution!)

DAVID:

You know, I got to ask a lot of fans at the EGX in Birmingham, England, as to what their favourite game had been, up to that point. The majority of fans that day said Blood Money was their favourite. Here’s the thing: I loved doing Absolution! It had everything going on for me as a voice actor and to be able to more fully express some complex feelings of this otherwise, pretty surpassed character and dear friend – Agent 47! I also liked his reluctant relationship with Victoria. I personally thought the writing was brave and ambitious. Perhaps too ambitious, in hindsight, as the fans felt they lost some of the open sandbox of Blood Money, in the pursuit of such an “emotional” plotline. That’s definitely been rectified with the latest episodic release of the latest instalment this last year!

07_RiversideWhat is so cool with this franchise and the evolvement of it, is that the people who create it, from the programmers, graphic artists and creatives, to the writers who populate the games, is that they really, really care about what they are doing. May sound cheesy but it’s true. Added to which, the amount of time I have spent recording with them over the years, has meant that there is an immense understanding for this character and the direction in which they want to take it. Not everything works. That’s human. Personally, I can’t wait to see where we are headed next – both in terms of plot and character development.

Remember, no one stays the same. We all evolve and change in some ways, over the years.

WHITE:

Again, I have to agree with you. From my personal experience with the team, I can clearly see they care oh so much! Whether or not it shows on the outside is often another story…

You mentioned Absolution‘s plot being too ambitious… sounds a lot like what I’ve been saying in my HITMAN opinion pieces… It is a shame the writers might be making the same mistakes.

What kind of story do you like best when it comes to a Hitman story? Is it the more personal approach with the storyline directly involving 47 or do you enjoy seeing what else the World of Assassination has to offer?

DAVID:

Got me here!  It’s both.

As I say, I liked the more personal approach of having Agent 47’s character tested and pushed, in terms of self discovery. But that’s just cos I am an actor! However, the World of Assassination has proved to be one big fat adventure! So I am equally drawn to the prospect of more of the same.

421488-3I will say this, though. I was at the BAFTA Games last year and I watched the BAFTA’s again this year, and the notion or theme being heavily appreciated, both by gaming experts and by the jury in some of the awards, is that a good storyline and character development should not be underestimated. Fans of course, will always want more of the same from their favourite gaming franchise. But they also want more. Of everything. So, more of the same is not enough, in itself, no matter good the graphics.

As humans we need to be engaged and drawn in to the action. That takes a strong storyline, great characters and a well crafted script. We need to feel for the them and be entertained by the story, otherwise what is the point? I know that is not the case for every game. Pokémon Go does just fine without all that.

WHITE:

Funnily enough, it was the storyline of Hitman that made me love the series, not just the gameplay. It all needs to flow together nicely to create an appealing package. And you are definitely a big part of it as well! How much involvement do you have in shaping the character? Do you sometimes step in and say “This isn’t how he would act”?

DAVID:

Good question. Occasionally, I will step in and say: “this sounds wrong or at least, not quite right”. The writers are in the room when we record so it will be discussed and alternates suggested and tried out. Normally, we all end up in agreement. After so many years working together, it tends to go pretty fast, if we have any disagreements.

I often record lines in groups of 3. Either the first instinctive approach is right or the third delivery is right. Never the second one. However, I need the second delivery to get to the third one. Time consuming and a little frustrating, sometimes. But with so much dialogue to get through, the rhythm of recording this way seems to work best.

WHITE:

What do you consider the main appeal of the character you’re voicing?

vlcsnap-error790DAVID:

He’s cool. In every way.  Strong, silent, determined, utterly ruthless. Yet, haunted. searching. Not quite vulnerable – at least not in any obvious way. With just a touch of very dark humour…

WHITE:

That dark humor we all love so much… I like how you described him as “searching”. That pretty much covers his entire journey up to this point!

Was there any moment in particular that is memorable to you out of your entire career of voicing agent 47? Any interesting tidbits or stories to share?

DAVID:

That’s not fair. I have many but I’m afraid I’ve run out of time. The memorable moments have mainly got to do with my relationship to the writers and people of IO, and the physical process of recording the dialogue. It is simply unique – not only to be playing the same character for all these years, but to feel like I really have got to know him. He is a close friend of mine, and as such, I accept that I don’t know all of him. Like a real good friend, we accept them for who we think they are. That’s good enough.

WHITE:

Do you have any favorite quotes or moments from the series?

DAVID:

“I need to use the bathroom” will probably be engraved on my tombstone! Actually, there are others but they are either quotes or misreads that occur during the many hours of recording, and I can’t think of any now. If I do, I will drop you a line with a quote. Promise.

WHITE:

I’ll hold you to that promise!

How do you see the character going forward? He’s been through so much already, I’m sure his mindset now is completely different from what we’ve seen in the past? Do you ever see him taking a well deserved retirement?

DAVID:

20170509190008_1You know, I honestly just wait for the next adventure to unfold. That’s the joy of my part in the process. Everyone else at IO has to work for months – if not even years, sometimes – on all the practical aspects that go into making the next instalment. I just get to turn up on a recording day and have a lot of fun, finding out what happens next.

Agent 47 has grown so much and evolved and matured, even. Though he did get a bit younger in appearance, from Absolution to World of Assassination 1, I noticed! I think he can cope with a lot more than he could 17 years ago.

As for retirement…. I doubt that very much.


Thanks again to Mr. David Bateson for agreeing to this interview. Please, do check his work at his official website and follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

Thank you to Mad Max for helping me with figuring out a title for this piece.

Thanks to Mr. Torben Ellert for checking up on a few things.

And of course, a big thank you to all of my Patreons!

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2 thoughts on “Hunter and Hunted – An interview with David Bateson

  1. Wonderful piece, although I really found the comment about autistics very distasteful, being autistic myself.

    Have you heard the news about IO and Square Enix? What do you think about it?

    Like

    1. Sorry it made you feel uncomfortable. I personally did not think it was that bad but I can’t say anything for other people.

      I have heard news. As someone who know some of people working at IO personally, I am most saddened by their current situation.

      Like

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